Is UTR the new tennis minor league? — Quotes from Indian Wells — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 15, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday, y’all! I try to do something different in the middle of two-week tournaments and this week is no different. This week, we’re going to discuss Universal Tennis (UTR). If you haven’t heard of them, you should, because in my opinion, they’re the future of level-based play. UTR is a “global tennis player rating system intended to produce an objective, consistent, and accurate index of players’ skill in the game of tennis. UTR rates all players on a single 16-point scale, without regard to age, gender, nationality, or locale of a given match.” Essentially, with their algorithm, you meet and play people similar to your rating to ensure competition.

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It’s a fantastic way for recreational players to network and get competition, especially for adults where there aren’t a lot of available tournaments. Where they’ve started doing amazing things is within the professional landscape by creating the UTR Pro Tennis Tour. The PTT has dozens of $25,000 tournaments all over the world and to enter, a player needs at least a 9.7 UTR rating and be ranked outside of the Top 200 in the PTT rankings. Players are then divided up into 4 round robin groups, where they are guaranteed at least three matches and at least $400 in prize money. Champions earn between $3,475 and $3,600, depending on draw size. The payout for these tournaments are significantly better compared to the ITF World Tour, but they don’t offer WTA points.

Another big draw Universal Tennis brings is their live streaming, so you can catch up-and-comers or players making their comeback — like Taylor Townsend did this month when she won a PTT tournament in Bradenton, Florida.

This week, UTR announced their collaboration with Amazon to stream their PTT matches on Prime Video. It’s an incredible way to reach a larger audience and not only get the UTR/PTT brand out there, but the players can potentially receive more recognition.

It was also shared over the weekend that UTR will be giving $100,000 annual grants — known as the Universal Tennis Hurd Awards, which is named after the late former Oracle CEO Mark Hurd.

Starting in 2023, two $100,000 grants will be awarded each year at the BNP Paribas Open to a male and female professional who have demonstrated exemplary sportsmanship and an aptitude for success on the pro tour. They must have played at least one year of collegiate tennis prior to turning professional. Details on criteria, application and selection coming soon.

Hurd and Oracle invested in $100,000 grants for American collegiate players looking to get support as they begin their professional career, but Hurd’s death and the COVID-19 pandemic halted that.Working with Hurd’s widow, Paula and an Award Council that includes Lindsay Davenport, Tracy Austin, Mary Joe Fernandez and Peggy Michel.

I’m a massive fan of the UTR product and feel as if it’s a matter of when, not if, UTR will begin giving WTA ranking points. Their biggest roadblock is the ITF’s World Tennis Number, that has backing by the USTA and LTA. Because the UTR system is a direct competitor of the WTN, there could be a conflict of interest to include ranking points. I would counterargue that there are less and less tournaments available for players to play, so why not create more opportunities for players to travel and make a living, while honing their craft?

UTR has strategic partnerships with the Novak Djokovic Foundation, Team8, Tennis Australia, Tennis Channel and now Amazon. Oracle is also another massive part of UTR’s foundation and their recent investment with the Hurd Award bodes well for the future. Their current President is Anne Worcester, who was the WTA CEO before taking over as Tournament Director of the Connecticut Open for 20 years. Keep your eyes peeled in the near future for a potential Five at The IX with Anne. Until then, onto links!

This Week in Women’s Tennis

Two years ago, the BNP Paribas Open was the biggest sporting event to cancel in the wake of COVID-19 and a lot has happened since. Today starts the Round of 16 and the current draw is a fun one and I’ll spare you predictions — for now:

(26) Sorana Cirstea vs. (24) Simona Halep
Petra Martic vs. (28) Liudmila Samsonova
(3) Iga Swiatek vs. (15) Angelique Kerber
Harriet Dart vs. (25) Madison Keys
(5) Paula Badosa vs. (18) Leylah Fernandez
(21) Veronika Kudermetova vs. (30)Marketa Vondrousova
(6) Maria Sakkari vs. Daria Saville
(17) Elena Rybakina vs. (31) Viktorija Golubic

Hologic and the WTA formally began their partnership this past week, which included a slew of on-site activations including input from scans from Hologic’s Horizon DXA during the players’ annual physicals.

WTA Insider gathered some facts about Jasmine Paolini, who had the biggest win of her career in the Indian Wells second round over top-seeded Aryna Sabalenka.

In case you missed some International Women’s Day action on social media, the staff compiled their “social buzz” roundup.

Though Naomi Osaka’s time in Indian Wells was short and overshadowed, still read this feature Greg Garber wrote before the tournament began.

The Credit One Charleston Open, a WTA 500 event in April, announced their player field that includes half of the Top 10. Sofia Kenin and reigning NCAA champion/local product Emma Navarro have received the first two wildcards.

Stars, they’re just like us:

Marta Kostyuk and Maryna Zanevska’s epic Indian Wells encounter lasted 3 hours and 9 minutes — ranking No. 3 in the Top 25 longest matches of 2022.

If you need tennis tips like I certainly do, Tracy Austin penned some simple things to bring your game to the next level.

All hail, Queen Blair Henley:

Madison Keys and Kindness Wins awarded Larry Salas a “Medal of Kindness” for his work in the Coachella Valley and the BNP Paribas Open.

Last week on the ITF World Tour:

  • $60,000+H Irapuato, Mexico:
    • (1) Lin Zhu def. (2) Rebecca Marino, 6-4, 6-1
    • (1) Kaitlyn Christian/Lidziya Marozava def. Anastasia Tikhonova/Daniela Vismane, 6-0, 6-2
  • $25,000 Bendigo, Australia:
    • (7) Jaimee Fourlis def. (6) Olivia Gadecki, 6-3, retired
    • (2) Rutuja Bhosale/Ankita Raina def. Alexandra Bozovic/Weronika Falkowska, 4-6, 6-3, [10-4]
  • $25,000 Salinas, Ecuador:
    • (13) Barbara Gatica def. (8) Suzan Lamens, 6-4, 7-6(2)
    • (2) Barbara Gatica/Rebeca Pereira def. Maria Fernanda Herazo Gonzalez/Maria Paulina Perez-Garcia, 6-4, 6-0
  • $25,000 Antalya, Turkey:
    • (WC) Petra Marcinko def. Carole Monnet, 6-4, 6-1
    • Funa Kozaki/Naho Sato def. Marie Benoit/Nicoleta-Caralina Dascalu, 6-2, 6-4
  • $15,000 Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt:
    • (6) Mariia Tkacheva def. (7) Hong Yi Cody Wong, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3
    • Hiromi Abe/Ivana Sebestova def. Silvia Ambrosio/Elena-Teodora Cadar, 6-4, 1-6, [10-4]
  • $15,000 Naples, Florida:
    • (JR) Madison Sieg def. (Q) Samantha Crawford, 6-2, 1-0, retired
    • Liga Dekmeijere/Maria Kononova def. Qavia Lopez/Madison Sieg, 6-7(0), 6-3, [19-17]
  • $15,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (JR) Celine Naef def. (Q) Lara Schmidt, 3-6, 6-2, 7-5
    • (2) Michika Ozeki/Lauren Proctor def. (1) Julia Terziyska/Eliessa Valangendonck, 7-5, 7-6(9)
  • $15,000+H Amiens, France:
    • (8) Lucie Nguyen Tan def. (Q) Nicole Rivkin, 6-4, 7-5
    • Lucie Nguyen Tan/Oceane Babel def. (3) Tatiana Pieri/Federica Rossi, 6-3, 6-4

USTA Mid-Atlantic announced their plans to build a $42 million campus similar 30 miles Northwest of Washington, D.C., to the USTA National Campus in Lake Nona, FL. The renderings show “plans including 20 outdoor tennis courts, 16 indoor tennis courts, eight pickleball/youth courts and more than 190,000 total square feet of tennis infrastructure for daily tennis programs and match play, USTA Leagues, and events.”

Daria Saville — who’s having a massive Indian Wells run in the midst of her Achilles surgery comeback — is the social media follow you’re missing out on. She’s gold:

In college tennis news, the Miami Open will host a dual match between the No. 12 Miami Hurricanes and No. 38 Columbia Lions. This past week, all disciplines released new rankings, except for the NAIA, which comes out tomorrow. The following teams and players top the current lists:

  • Division I:
    • Team: University of North Carolina
    • Singles: Daria Frayman (Princeton)
    • Doubles: Fiona Crawley/Elizabeth Scotty (UNC)
  • Division II:
    • Team: Barry University
    • Singles: Deniz Kazhan (Barry)
    • Doubles: Christine Canete/Mae Canete (University of Central Oklahoma)
  • Division III:
    • Team: University of Chicago
  • Junior College:
    • Team: Tyler Junior College

With Belarus and reigning champion Russia formally suspended from the Billie Jean King Cup Finals by the ITF, the ITF Board confirmed that Australia (highest-ranked 2021 Finals semifinalist), Belgium (Australia’s BJK Cup Qualifier opponent) and Slovakia (Belarus’ BJK Qualifier opponent) receive direct byes into October’s Finals.

Tweet of the Week

Newly 18 and wise beyond her years. Good on ya, Coco

Five at The IX: Indian Wells Week 1

For more quotes from the BNP Paribas Open, check out the highlights from WTA Insider.

Q. Kind of as a general catch-up, how do you feel as the season begins, as we’re slowly starting to come out of COVID protocols on tour, super strictness, which obviously impacted everybody. Things are slowly becoming a little bit more normalized. Do you feel that at all? Do you feel that has any impact on the vibe kind of going about this business of coming out here and winning tennis matches?

ALISON RISKE: I wouldn’t say there’s a correlation there for me in particular. Obviously it adds to the experience to have the fans cheering, a little bit more normalcy, I would say, surrounding the tournaments like we were used to prior to COVID.

But honestly I was getting used to things being the way that they started to become, as well. I think we all adjusted, made it as good as we could.

Obviously we would much prefer having it this way. Even just to sign autographs, it’s something that you take for granted. Now, you know, we’re able to go over to the fans, you know, be around them, which I think that’s what the sport’s about. We’re here because of the fans. I think to be able to have that interaction again is essential.

Q. After the incredible highs that you’ve experienced, then the disappointments with some results, do you feel you’re putting pressure on yourself or do you feel there is pressure being put on you that people are expecting you to win unrealistically every match you go out and play because you’ve won the US Open?

EMMA RADUCANU: I feel like that probably happened after the US Open. I think everyone just suddenly expected me to win everything, and clean up everything I played.

But realistically before that, like, if you would have said to me last year, Emma, what is your goal for the year? I’d be like, Okay, I want to win one round in the main draw of a Grand Slam. I did that in Australia. That to me last year probably would have made my year, to be honest.

Yeah, what might be a poor result now in people’s eyes to me would have been a positive thing. I think I need to keep reminding yourself of that, not getting sucked in.

I feel like now people are starting to realize it’s going to take some time for her to settle in. I feel like patience is a big thing. Once I settle in and go through all these highs and lows, I’ll find some sort of equilibrium.

Q. You have made huge progress in the last couple of years. If you pick just one or two turning points of your career, what would it be?

PAULA BADOSA: Hmm… I said it before in some interviews. One of the, like, turning points in my career, I think it was a little bit last year. From the beginning of the year I think I made a big change, like I said in some interviews, I was very bad mentally before. I was getting very frustrated and I was not fighting sometimes as I had to do. I changed that a lot.

From the beginning of the year I decided I wanted to be very strong on that part. That made me improve on a lot of things because when you get stronger mentally, you have to get stronger physically, and your tennis keeps improving because you’re playing against the big players. I think I improved a lot on that.

If I have to say a match, it was against Ashleigh Barty in clay court in Charleston last year. Mentally in my head, I was thinking if I won the No. 1 in the world, maybe I could win anyone. That helps to give you confidence. You believe it’s possible and you can win every player.

Q. I see you’re wearing a fitness tracker. How do you use the data from that for your training and health?

VICTORIA AZARENKA: WTA as a partnership with WHOOP. Something that I’ve also been trying to monitor and see how it can be helpful to my routine.

I think nothing really is perfect. It’s about how well you can analyze the data as well as adapting how you really feel. I think overall it is helpful to bring a little bit more features.

One of the things we actually had talks about in our meetings is opportunities for women’s health, actually how not enough of research for women athletes there is for different things. A lot of research is based on male athletes. Hopefully with data through this device and more devices, there will be much more women athletes that I think it will help women in general to get some research and data overall.

Q. You said you haven’t played very well this year until today. Your ranking is in the top 50 now, you’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple seasons. Can you tell me why you think you’ve been able to make these strides, what you have improved in your game?

JASMINE PAOLINI: I think I have more confidence on hard courts. I work a lot with – I don’t know how is – a guy who make video analysis, yeah. That I think was the key.

Before, last year, I didn’t believe that I could play also on hard courts. So I was playing pretty well on clay courts, but I had difficulties on hard courts.

Now I think I believe that I can play also here. So I think that’s the key. More tournaments are on hard courts, I mean, instead of clay courts. I have more chances to do points. That gave me confidence I think during the year, yeah.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon